Bill Steigerwald

With the Democrat presidential primary looking like it will have to be decided at the party's national convention in Denver on Aug. 25-28, it’s a good time to revisit the country’s last contested political convention -- the Republican National Convention of 1976.

For you youngsters out there, that was where ex-California Gov. Ronald Reagan lost a close battle for the presidential nomination with President Gerald Ford and the GOP’s East Coast establishment by a vote of 1,187 to 1,070. Reagan's primary challenge and his stirring speech at the convention, which overshadowed Ford's acceptance address, made him a national political figure.

Ronald Reagan’s longtime friend and presidential policy adviser Edwin Meese, who holds the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation, was at that famous Republican slugfest in Kansas City.

To get a foretaste of what might happen in Denver when Hillary Clinton Democrats and Barack Obama Democrats duke it out to see who'll face presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, we talked to former U.S. Attorney General Meese on Thursday, Feb. 7 -- the day Mitt Romney dropped out of the race:

Q: You knew it was going to be a tough fight when you got to Kansas City. What did you have to do as soon as you got there?

A: The principal thing was to find delegations that were somewhat uncertain or delegations that we thought the members of which might be persuaded to support Gov. Reagan on a subsequent ballot. It was a matter of whether we could obtain enough delegates to change what was the picture going in. First we had to find out what our relative strength was. That was done by asking for a rule change. It was that vote on the rule change -- which ultimately was not successful -- that indicated that the Reagan forces would not be able to overcome the number of Ford delegates.

Q: Can you characterize the Ford and the Reagan people?

A: Well, the major issues in the campaign had to do with primarily foreign policy and how to deal with the Soviet Union. Actually, even before the convention started, Gov. Reagan had achieved a major victory by having the party platform changed to take a harder line against the Soviets and Soviet aggression. So there was already a victory in policy before the convention started.

As far as the two sides, the Ford supporters, of course, were primarily establishment Republican Party figures and several of the state delegations. The Reagan delegates and supporters were primarily strong conservatives on both foreign policy and domestic policy. They involved some of the delegations that had supported Ronald Reagan in the primaries or in the caucuses that preceded the convention.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..